The zika virus has been dominating news headlines in the first twomonths of the current year and remains to be one of the greatestsources of concern to the public and the healthcare professionals.This viral infection, which has already been declared an epidemic,closely follows the recent dengue fever outbreak. Studies have shownthat dengue and zika are closely linked though there is littleunderstanding about the zika virus and thus basic information aboutthe virus is necessary to help stem its spread. This essay providesrelevant information about the virus and highlights a model thatsuggests that the current reported cases in the Americas may increasefurther.
The virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda among mosquitos andwild animals before being later tested in other tropical countries.Arboreal mosquitoes such as aedes africanus transmitted thedisease among primates but it was not detected among humans untilnow. Studies established that the zika transmissions by the aedesmosquito followed a pattern similar to other mosquito-bornealpha-viruses such as flavi-virus, dengue, and yellow fever virus(Fauci and Morens 2). Currently, the same pattern has been observedwith the zika epidemic soon being reported after dengue fever cases.
Previously, Zika was perceived to be a predominantly mild orasymptomatic dengue-like disease. However, this has changed with theviral infection being associated with several serious complications.The world health organization (WHO) has already declared zika apublic health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) inrecognition of the rapid transmission and effect on health. Thisfollows data that has associated the virus with microcephaly cases inbabies in Brazil. There were over 5000 cases of microcephaly casesamong babies reported in Brazil as at the end of February 2016.Microcephaly itself is a mild to severe birth defect characterized bya small head and an underdeveloped brain. Again, there have beenincreased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome in the country that havecoincided with the epidemic (Fauci and Morens 2). The spread of thevirus is expected to increase with time based on several factors.
The most significant factor contributing to its rapid spread is themode of transmission. Transmitted through mosquito bites, the zikavirus has found home in tropical countries that harbor highermosquito populations (CDC). Pregnant women who are infected with thevirus are linked to contribute to microcephaly in the unborn babies.Furthermore, there have been unconfirmed links that the virus can betransmitted through sexual contact. This follows two reported casesof sexual transmission and one case where the virus has been detectedin semen (WHO).
What comes out clearly is that the virus is not yet well understood.The claims of sexual transmissions of the virus are not yet confirmedmore research is required. As a result, the public lacks all the keyinformation to address the virus at the community level.Nevertheless, there are key known facts especially on symptoms anddiagnosis. Blood and body fluids such as saliva can be used to dolaboratory tests for the virus. The dengue-like symptoms includefever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise,and headache (CDC). The incubation period is thought to be 2-8 days(CDC) which, according to Perkins et al (2) varies with temperatures.Babies exposed to the virus before birth are likely to developmicrocephaly, a condition characterized by small heads indicative ofan under developed brain that can lead to developmental problems andseizures.
Management of the disease mainly pertains to avoiding mosquitoes byusing mosquito repellants, clearly stagnant water and bushes and evenusing physical barriers to keep mosquitos away. These preventativemeasures require intensive public awareness especially intransmission prone areas. At the same time, such public awarenesscampaigns must be well informed by supporting data to avoidmisinforming the public.
Perkins and colleagues have developed a projections-based modelpredicting the spread of the virus. Due to the unavailable data aboutthe infection, the authors used highly spatially resolved data thatpredicts that before the end of the first wave of the epidemic,there will be 1.1 (1.0–1.9) million infections in childbearingwomen and 64.2 (53.6–108.1) million infections across alldemographic groups. This analysis is largely borrowed from theinfections and transmission patterns of dengue fever in the recentpast that has many similarities to zika. The dengue fever isestimated to have infected 53.8 (40.0–71.8) million in the Americasalone (Perkins et al).
However, the model does not address some pertinent issues. A case inpoint is the report that the virus may be present in the body fluidsincluding breast milk. This would suggest that mothers in the virusprone areas or those already infected with the virus should becautious about breastfeeding their babies. However, the CDC throughits Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (2016) encourages infectedmothers and those living in areas with ongoing zika transmissions tocontinue breastfeeding their babies as the benefits of breastfeedingtheoretically outweigh the risks of zika virus transmission throughbreast milk.
All in all, this brief paper provides a situational analysis of thezika virus epidemic. While the virus has been around for severaldecades it was never thought to cause serious health complications.Now that these complications have been confirmed, there is need togather more information and data regarding this infection in order todevelop suitable and effective intervention and preventativemeasures. For the time being, reducing mosquito populations andavoiding mosquito bites are the most common methods of fighting theinfection.
CDC, Update: InterimGuidelines for Health Care Providers Caring for Infants and Childrenwith
Possible Zika Virus Infection — United States, February 2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2016. Web.<http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6507e1.htm>
Fauci, Anthony andDavid Morens, Zika Virus in the Americas-yet Another ArbovirusThreat.
New EnglandJournal of medicine. 374:601-604
Perkins, Alex, AmirSiraj, Corrine Ruktanonchai and Moritz Kraemer, Model-based
projections ofZika virus infections in childbearing women in the Americas.2016. Web.
WHO, Zika virus:fact sheet. 2016. Web. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/>